On the eve of its surprising win from the Producers Guild, THE HURT LOCKER continues its astonishing run of awards kudos. The film about a bomb squad in Iraq opened in June to stellar critical praise and brought in a paltry $12.6 million at the box office. But the film has rallied at the end of the year and has 15 Best Picture wins from critic groups across the country. (UP IN THE AIR is second with 13 wins.)
I waited to review the CD until I finally saw the film. And I must say I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Well acted? Yes. Well directed, edited, and lensed? Yes. But except for the opening bomb dismantling which is truly heart-stopping, the film grows tedious with each successive job, providing little relief. Perhaps that is what director Kathryn Bigelow was going for, but it doesn’t necessarily make for compelling drama.
The score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders is an odd choice to release on CD. Nearly seven months after the film’s release, I can’t help but think that the year-end awards performance hastened a release of this dissonant and harsh score.
“Thematically we decided it should conjure up images of a western,” said Beltrami in the CD’s press release, “since the main character’s attitude is that of an independent cowboy. Then we used various performance techniques to achieve the atmosphere of an unpredictable, alien landscape.”
“Alien” is definitely the right word. This is a world that most of us thankfully will never have to experience. So it was up to Beltrami and Sanders to bring us into the world through the use of instruments and electronics. The haunting sound of the ehru, a Chinese violin, plays as close to a main theme as we’re going to get. Hovering over the reverbed guitars and a gentle, pulsating triplet accompaniment, the instrument gives the music a subtle eastern feel. The theme is reprised in the final cue, “The Way I Am.”
Sanders said that “Kathryn’s main goal sonically was to blur the line between sound effects and score to enhance realism and not have an overtly orchestral score leading the film. We decided to use a small ensemble and some of the film’s production sounds and then fused them together.”
Beltrami and Sanders score the scenes with a deft hand. The music fades into the ever-present sun and sand, without drawing attention to itself. In “Body Bomb,” they create a musical landscape that shimmers and buzzes like bugs in the desert heat. Only in one cue, “Guest In My House,” do we feel anything resembling steady, albeit brief, rhythm that could qualify as action-oriented.
This is free-form music that doesn’t sound composed and set down on notepaper for the most part. The sonic impressions blend into and sit atop one another, creating a unique kind of tension. Every now and then the sounds will coalesce into something resembling a traditional chord. But for the most part, the score is a succession of Middle Eastern harmonies and sonic swells. The music has no beginning, middle, or end. It is continuous tension, like the day-to-day job of the story’s characters.
This is not a relaxing score, nor should it be. And at 31 minutes, the CD is probably the perfect length. It ends before it wears out its welcome.
THE HURT LOCKER won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and I can’t say that I’ll listen to it that often. But the music and other-worldly sounds burrow beneath your skin. Kudos to Beltrami and Sanders for capturing a unique sound for the film.